By Christina Boufis, Kimberly Chun, Karen T. Hartline, Kathy Hrastar, Anna Mindess, Candace Murphy, Renee Macalino Rutledge, Nate Seltenrich and Jeff Swenerton
Edited by Judith M. Gallman
Photography by Susan Burdick, Lori Eanes and Kim White
Our Oakland is an oasis of Middle Eastern markets, a retro-hipster’s shopping paradise and ground zero for a new beer-centric revolution. Oaktown is Vietnamese food with a view, gluten-free bakeshop delicacies and greens, grits and potlikker gravy. The Town surprises with peaceful hiking in a nature preserve, it woos with secret weapons for the anti-aging movement and wows with rockin’ hairstylists and internationally loved singer/songwriters. Townies can quaff their liquor and buy wild boar and rabbit pâté by the pound or get their heart rates pumping while pedaling a bike on a tasting tour of East Bay wineries.
That’s our Oakland, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
We celebrate all that and more in our annual Best Of coverage, scouring Oakland and the East Bay for 100-plus Editors’ and Readers’ Choices winners in categories from food, restaurants, drink and nightlife to goods, services and lifestyle options plus many points in between.
What’s your Oakland like? Raise a glass to cheer on our winners — they deserve it.
Editors’ Choice Best
Late Night Dining
It’s called the Flying Saucer, but there’s nothing spacey about this newly-opened downtown Oakland joint. Housed in a turquoise-tiled Art Deco building at 14th and Webster streets and appointed with a classy-artsy dark-wood-and-stained-glass motif, Disco Volante also features a built-in corner stage (live music and DJs appear six nights a week, often sans cover charge) and a gorgeous bar (nicely stocked with beer, wine and the makings of some clever house cocktails). Yet the real magic happens in the kitchen, where well-trained cooks turn out innovative, tasty, responsibly sourced (and reasonably priced) fare. Best of all, you can eat it just about whenever you want. The wonderful bistro menu, with everything from soup and salad and Point Reyes oysters to crispy pig ears and house-made sausage, is available from open to close daily — as late as 1:30 a.m. Thursday through Saturday and midnight the rest of the week. Late-night dining is back. — Nate Seltenrich
Disco Volante, 347 14th St. (510) 663-0271 www.discovolanteoakland.com
Best Ambassador for Britain
Commonwealth Cafe and Public House
Let’s be honest: Among the panoply of international food and drink available in the East Bay, British fare ranks rather low on most foodies’ to-eat list — perhaps just above haggis and tripe. Plus the wine’s not worth mentioning, and warm beer — who wants it? But the fine folks at Commonwealth Cafe and Public House turn common wisdom on its head with bangers and mash (sausage and mashed potatoes, that is) made into a satisfying specialty, shepherd’s pie that shames the Marie Callender’s chicken pot pie you so treasure, and — most surprising of all — good beers with ridiculous names like Wee Heavy, Twisted Thistle and Old Engine Oil (plus another 31 British and Scottish imports you’ve probably never heard of, all served cold from cans and bottles) that will surely change the way you think about British Isle brews. The charming pub atmosphere on a quiet stretch of Telegraph Avenue only heightens the appeal. It’s right time to revise that list. — Nate Seltenrich
Commonwealth Cafe and Public House, 2882 Telegraph Ave., (510) 663-3001 www.cmonoakland.com
Shop with the Freshest Donuts
Donut shops are funny things: They can inspire cult-like legions of fans, or venomous, poison-spitting legions of haters. CoDo’s, as Colonial Donuts’ loyal fan base calls it, falls somewhere in the middle. Not cult-like like Krispy Kreme, yet with solid enough footing in the East Bay to have two shops (a Colonial Donuts on Franklin in Oakland is not related), CoDo’s earned this year’s title for having the freshest donuts. That’s because all the donuts are made fresh at the Lakeshore location and either sold there, or driven over to La Salle Avenue in Montclair. Like standard, timeworn neighborhood donut shops of yesteryear, Colonial Donuts is pretty reliable for its maple bars (even custard-filled, for those who want to mess with tradition), its old-fashioneds, its chocolate glazeds and its Cal-colored sprinkleds. Just don’t try to pay with American Express — or any other type of plastic. True to its name, and those shops of old, Colonial Donuts is pretty much mired in another century right down to its accepted payment: Cash only. — Candace Murphy
Colonial Donuts, 6126 La Salle Ave., (510) 339-8230; 3318 Lakeshore Ave.,(510) 893-2503.
Best Vietnamese Food With A View
On a sunny day, claim a spot on Saigon Restaurant’s makeshift patio, order a giant bowl of steaming pho with its heaping plate of DIY garnishes (bean sprouts, cilantro, basil and jalapeños) ($6.95) and unwind as you gaze at the grassy knoll in the center of Frank Ogawa Plaza and beyond to the classic lines of the giant wedding cake we call City Hall. Saigon Restaurant boasts a fan base of loyal customers whose patronage is built on the huge menu, generous portions and amazingly low prices. Try the fresh, thick salad rolls with peanut sauce or crunchy, fried rolls with lettuce and mint (under $7). Or go for a perfect noontime meal in a bowl, bún: a skein of skinny rice noodles draped over salad, topped with seared barbecued shrimp (under $8). Fast, friendly waiters scurry to bring complimentary soup and tea. One caveat: As you lunch in this prime people-watching spot, you might just “forget” to go back to the office. — Anna Mindess
Saigon Restaurant, 326 Frank Ogawa Plaza, (510) 465-4545
Everett & Jones
Those living in the Oakland-Berkeley corridor have no com-plaints when it comes to barbecue. On one end, there’s T-Rex, a refined take on a homespun favorite, and on the other, in the heart of Jack London Square, resides Everett & Jones, a joint that produces the kind of smoky eats that Mama used to make. It’s all about the sauce at this spot that’s been finger-lickin’ good since ’73, making it all the more reasonable that shelves in Safeway are packed with the nationally marketed bottles of the stuff. The food underneath isn’t bad either — ribs tumble off the bone, thinly sliced brisket melts in the mouth and while the collards may lack that vinegar tang, you’re still going to be hard pressed to find greens like these anywhere else. Get the food to go (don’t forget the down home macaroni and cheese, flecked with meaty bits of pepper), or eat it in, either at the cozy nine-seat bar, or at one of the mismatched table and chair sets near the vintage stove. From that vantage point, you can almost see Mama putting the final touches on those candied yams. — Candace Murphy
Everett & Jones, 126 Broadway, (510) 663-2350, www.eandjbbq.com
Best New-School Southern Breakfast
Aunt Mary’s Café
The Southern bubble and squeak may be all you need to know. Featuring
savory potato-and-Southern-greens cakes topped with rich potlikker gravy and served with two eggs and a house-made flaky biscuit on the side, the dish embodies Aunt Mary’s Café’s approach toward breakfast: hearty, Southern and delectable. You’ll also find a yeasted waffle made with grits and topped with sage gravy, fried chicken optional; cheddar cheese grits, available with veggies or smoky bacon; and, for lunch, such delights as a corned beef sandwich, deep-fried catfish and a deep-fried oyster po’ boy. Then there are the weekend brunch specials. Suffice to say you won’t go hungry. Situated on a slyly emerging stretch of Telegraph Avenue at Temescal’s southern reaches, Aunt Mary’s Café takes Oakland’s love for classic Southern food and eases it into the 21st century. That means cage-free eggs, organic flour and cornmeal, Niman Ranch ham and a slice of buttermilk pie for the road. — Nate Seltenrich
Aunt Mary’s Café, 4307 Telegraph Ave., (510) 601-9227, www.auntmaryscafe.com
Best Bar With Wild Boar Salami and Rabbit Pâté by the Pound
Of the four walls that make up Bar Dogwood, two are floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on the busy corner of Telegraph Avenue and 17th Street, one is a ménage of old Oakland photos and pheasant taxidermy, and the last is a glorious three-level display of small-batch and hard-to-find liquors set against original brick that reminds one of the kind of temple Willy Wonka might erect in his factory were he more tippler than sweet-toothed leerer. Owner Alexeis Filipello (formerly of San Francisco’s House of Shields) opened Dogwood in February to cater to what she sees as Oaklanders’ more grown-up tastes. “Oakland is for the aficionado; it’s not made for rookies, but for someone who loves great food and drinks and wants to have a nice time without the pretentiousness,” she says. While the bar’s ever-shifting drink menu reflects seasonal tastes, the bar menu is more reminiscent of European small plates, with a cheese and meat counter serving up our delicious animal friends hormone- and cruelty-free, including house-made salami from heritage-breed pigs, lemon zest, Aleppo peppers and sweet vermouth. Or duck prosciutto. Or spicy cured pork loin. Be careful, or you might miss your show at the Fox. — Jeff Swenerton
Bar Dogwood, 1644 Telegraph Ave., (510) 444-6669, www.bardogwood.com
In-N-Out’s finest moment arguably came in 2001, when its meat passed muster in Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation. The timing was fortuitous. Just a few years earlier, the regional chain had finally migrated to Northern California, well after its 1948 founding in Irvine, and had taken residence in Bay Area hearts. We here know food, and so does In-N-Out. For those who don’t color outside the lines, In-N-Out has three varieties of burgers (hamburger, cheeseburger and double-double), and French fries prepared in-house from Kennebec potatoes. But the real fun lies in the famous secret menu. Hardly secret anymore (it’s now on the In-N-Out website), the insiders’ selections range from Animal Style burgers to Neapolitan shakes. Adding to the appeal? Like any chain worth its salt, every In-N-Out looks virtually identical, sometimes right down to those crossed palm trees in the front of many outposts, a nod to founder Harry Snyder’s favorite movie, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. — Candace Murphy
In-N-Out Burger, 8300 Oakport St., (800) 786-1000, www.in-n-out.com
Best Place to Feed Your Inner Child
Homeroom: Mac + Cheese
A restaurant that serves only macaroni and cheese? Homeroom: Mac + Cheese takes this American classic comfort food to new levels. It’s the brainchild of two women who believe that mac ’n’ cheese will put a smile on anyone’s face. Judging by the lines for dinner every night, they’re right. Choose from eight kinds, all made with artisanal cheeses from California. There’s the Little Mac for little ones, and veggie sides that taste better than mom ever made. Homemade root beer, great local beers and wines plus funky décor make for a fun dining experience. Leave room for dessert: the homemade Oreos topped with sea salt and creamy peanut butter pie are not to be missed. — Christina Boufis
Homeroom: Mac + Cheese, 400 40th St., (510) 597-0400, www.homeroom510.com
Best Middle East One-Stop Shop
Under a pair of neon palm trees, Oasis Market lives up to its name as a fertile spot in the desert, a cultural crossroads that combines restaurant, halal butcher, pastry counter, bakery and grocery store. Park your camel at the curb and enjoy tender lamb shawarma or crunchy golden falafel with creamy hummus at the cafe. The deli case overflows with riches: olives and feta, tabouleh, dolmas and smoky baba ganoush. Pita and naan are baked onsite daily. And the glistening pastry case is not a mirage; it really features a mind-boggling array of exotic sweets all made with fresh filo dough rolled out by a pastry chef. Roam the aisles for products from far-off lands: jars of Syrian mixed vegetables, Egyptian pickled onions and Bulgarian eggplant. You don’t need to wander the desert to find halvah from Turkey, Israel and Lebanon. Oasis carries the sweet sesame treat in pistachio, vanilla, chocolate, and even sugar-free varieties. The halal butcher in the back will grind your meat to order — or even sell you the whole goat to go. — Anna Mindess
Oasis Market, 3045 Telegraph Ave., (510) 655-5111
Best Gourmet Take-Out
In truth, most restaurants, even gourmet ones, provide takeout. But a restaurant whose food is designed to be takeaway, and gourmet at that? Well, those are few and far between. With an ever-changing menu since opening in the shadow of Chez Panisse back in 2002, Grégoire has since expanded to Piedmont Avenue, and now even features complicated menus with probable aphrodisiac powers on holidays. Why? Because Grégoire is here to serve as your personal chef. Braised and seared pork belly? Steamed mussels Provençal? Grilled rock cod with Indonesian sambal? With each dish under $15? And packaged in boxes specifically designed to keep the food assembled and warm? Oui! And that’s just an average Tuesday, mon ami. To which can only be said … “bon appétit!” Oh, and, “Passe-moi le teléphone.”
— Candace Murphy
Grégoire Berkeley, 2109 Cedar St., Berkeley, (510) 883-1893; Grégoire Oakland, 4001b Piedmont Ave., Oakland (510) 547-3444, www.gregoirerestaurant.com
Best Tea Service
Numi Tea Garden
There are times to linger, really linger, over tea. For those times, there is Numi Tea Garden, the organic tea company with a laid-back tea garden where the tea is served in Yixing clay teapots in the Gong-Fu style. This Chinese ceremonial tradition steps away from routine and builds a relationship with the tea, zeroing in on its appearance, texture, smell and preparation. Patrons drink from a small tasting cup, which takes away from the habit of gulping and leads to greater appreciation. Brother-sister co-founders Ahmed Rahim and Reem Rahim personally guide their employees in tea service. The result is a calm, relaxed experience to remember in their tea garden. — Renee Macalino Rutledge
Numi Tea Garden, 2230 Livingston St., (877) 686-4832, www.numitea.com
Best Gluten-Free Baking
Good Chemistry Baking
No one ever bites into a baked goodie and utters a passionate, “Mmm, gluten.” Removing this substance, however, usually causes even the most enticing cupcake to taste more like a scented candle than a delicious treat. But owner and baker Jane O’Hara has achieved a gluten-free miracle: making everything delicious. It is a challenge she takes very seriously, tweaking every recipe until the outcome hits the height of scrumptiousness. Chocolate chip scones and flourless chocolate pecan cookies top customer favorites, and visitors can expect three to four different kinds of muffins made with seasonal fruit. Stop in for lunch, featuring gluten-free pizza and panini made with sandwich bread that is her pride and joy. Take a hike, gluten! Oakland doesn’t need you anymore. — Karen T. Hartline
Good Chemistry Baking, 3249 Grand Ave., (510) 350-7190, www.goodchemistrybaking.com
Fentons Creamery and Restaurant
Let’s get this out of the way right now: I am a self-proclaimed milkshake expert. I’ve had chocolate milkshakes made with vanilla ice cream. I’ve had chocolate milkshakes made with chocolate ice cream. I’ve embarrassed my husband by ordering Oreo milkshakes made with vanilla syrup (a practice apparently more common on the East Coast). I’ve had a “concrete” — a milkshake so thick you can hold it upside down and it won’t drip. Any way you slurp it, though, the best milkshake in the East Bay comes out of Oakland’s own Fentons Creamery, founded in 1894 on the corner of 41st and Howe and moved in 1961 to its present location (which was destroyed by arson in 2001, but was swiftly rebuilt). Made to order — even with vanilla syrup if you want! — each milkshake boasts at least a pint of hand-scooped housemade ice cream and just a dollop of milk to help it move through a straw. They’re edible works of art worthy of the Louvre, if only it had a lactose wing. — Candace Murphy
Fentons Creamery and Restaurant, 4226 Piedmont Ave., (510) 658-7000, www.fentonscreamery.com
Best Go-To Gathering Spot/Where to Party Down
Mua Oakland Bar & Restaurant
Located in an old rental car garage, Mua is one of those places that seems accidentally chic at first glance, but with a longer, lingering look, you realize it’s more like a hipster’s hair: A tortured, intentional, artfully designed mess. And that’s just perfect for this lounge-cum-restaurant-cum-art gallery. Able to accommodate parties from 15–20 as well as intimate tables for two (even if the seats are a little uncomfortable), Mua (pronounced “moo-ah”) announced when it opened in fall of 2008 that it’d be a restaurant serving quality food in a chill atmosphere. Sometimes that chill is literal — before it turns into a two-bar lounge later at night where DJs spin every night but Monday, and before the hipster crowd shows up to nibble at 9 p.m., those concrete floors, walls and dangling metal ventilation pipes can lend a chill to the air. But the food is really the star here, whether it’s the outstanding burger or the cheeseless mac and cheese that defies the good-taste odds, Mua is a welcome addition to our list of places to go. Even if it does take hours to doll up to look properly turned down. — Candace Murphy
Mua Oakland Bar & Restaurant, 2442a Webster St., (510) 238-1100, www.muaoakland.com
Best Home for the Oakland Beer Renaissance
If you didn’t know it already, you may as well find out now: Oakland is becoming a beer town — again. Back in 1890, more than 40 breweries produced 35,000 barrels of beer annually in a city of only 40,000 residents. By 1959, Golden West Brewing Co. was making 500,000 barrels a year. Things quieted down after that, but a surge in interest in craft beer and local production has spawned a host of new festivals, bars and brewers in recent years. Beer Revolution wasn’t first, but it may as well be ground zero. Debuting in February 2010, the beer-only bar near Jack London Square offers an astonishing number and variety of brews: locals, imports and rarities of all styles available on 47 taps (yes, you read that right), which are among the
500 kept refrigerated in bottles.Take a seat on the summer-ready front patio and join the revolution. — Nate Seltenrich
Beer Revolution, 464 Third St., (510) 452-BEER, www.beer-revolution.com
Best Way to Drink Wine and Get in Some Cardio Yourself
East Bay Bike Winery Tours
At first blush, the idea of drinking wine and hopping on a bicycle to navigate the at times gritty, at times pretty streets of Oakland and Alameda doesn’t have that much appeal. But somehow, East Bay Bike Winery Tours, as guided by the steady hand of owner Jon Zalon, 59, makes it all work. Tourers meet near Jack London Square and head to a storage area where bikes are held (you can bring your own as well) and get kitted out in helmets and hybrid bikes. Then it’s time to hit the road in search of vino from some of the 21, often unheralded, wineries in the East Bay Vintners Alliance. A typical trip (around $89) begins at Irish Monkey Cellars — a spot known for its heavy-handed pours — followed by a homemade picnic lunch made by Zalon’s wife, Wendy Belden, at Alameda’s Crown Beach. Then, depending on the tour, the flat, 13-mile trip might include a cycle past the decommissioned Alameda Naval Air Station and to the Rock Wall Wine Company and the seven cooperative wineries sharing the space, then a ferry ride back to Jack London Square and a last stop, if there’s time, at Oakland’s Urban Legend Cellars and Urbano Cellars. With scenery ranging from brick walls spray painted with graffiti to the palm-lined avenues of Alameda, this is one bike tour you’ll never find in the pampered Wine Country. – Candace Murphy
East Bay Bike Winery Tours, (510) 285-7884, eastbaywinerybiketours.com
Best Place to Treat Your Feet
Foot Spa and Tea Bar
Who steadfastly supports your every move from morning to night — overlooked, imprisoned and, on occasion, tortured — without so much as a peep? Your feet of course! Scamper over to The Foot Spa and Tea Bar and give your sole-full buddies a luxurious treatment. Melt into a cushy armchair as your toes get a relaxing soak. Then a reflexologist massages every joint and nerve with organic cream, squeezing out stress and un-kinking knots. Legs get kneaded and pummeled,too. Sip a cup of healing tea, close your eyes and drift away. Your feet will thank you. — Anna Mindess
Foot Spa and Tea Bar, 582 Grand Ave., (510) 735-9868, www.thefootspateabar.com
Best Rockin’ Hairsytlists
Down at Lulu’s
How much more rockin’ can Down at Lulu’s get? And what better idea than to offer the whole super-cool high-trash street-glam package, obtainable in one storefront poised at the brink of Berkeley, on a sunny block of Telegraph. Here, seated amid the punky-pink, chi-chi-trashy décor and tempted by racks of zany vintage wear — encompassing everything from ’60s haus-frau frocks to ’80s stretchy T’s to the perfect pair of lace-up brown ankle boots — you can find the pop-cult cute cut of your dreams as well as an entire retro-rock ensemble in one fell swoop. Then find out exactly where to take your now-bad self by checking the garage-punk happenings on the board near the front door. Down at Lulu’s, the hair salon and vintage boutique, is the spunky brainchild of Tina Lucchesi (Bobbyteens, Top Ten) and Seth Bogart (Gravy Train!!!!, Hunx and His Punx), two longtime movers and shakers in the underground music scene who had the gumption to open a spot that both utilized their abilities as adventurous stylists and their skills as uncanny thriftstore pickers — with a big dose of fun to boot. As the salon/shop’s namesake Ohio Express bubblegum number goes, “Everybody’s meetin’ down at Lulu’s.” — Kimberly Chun
Down at Lulu’s, 6603 Telegraph Ave., (510) 601-0964, www.downatlulus.com
Best Spa for Learning to Float on Air
Body, Mind and Spirit Massage Therapy
If you think floating on air is impossible, make an appointment at this warmly decorated nook. You might walk in with everyday life weighing you down, but you will most certainly glide out. Owner John Vito’s vision is to create a place where everyone feels inner peace. The result is a palpable, positive vibe the moment you set foot in this second-floor refuge. In addition to the ubiquitous Swedish and deep tissue massages starting at $78 per hour, this spa offers unique services like a traditional Thai yoga or pregnancy massages for $88 per hour. No extra charge for learning how to float. — Karen T. Hartline
Body, Mind and Spirit Massage Therapy, 6206 Claremont Ave., (510) 547-6716, www.bodymindandspirit.us
Best Place to Build a Unique Vintage Wardrobe
Sarah Dunbar, owner of Pretty Penny, would love to deck you out in a trendy and affordable one-of-a-kind outfit from her collection of handpicked vintage fashions. The ambiance at her cozy College Avenue shop is a remix of grandma’s attic and funky artist loft, with a sprinkling of local contemporary art, jewelry and clothing thrown in to spice things up. Dunbar’s long obsession with vintage propelled her to start a business out of her living room. Her studies of European fashion magazines help her predict which styles are coming into vogue again, so she can scour the country for related originals to offer at reasonable prices. Keeping her finger on the collective cultural pulse, Dunbar was ready with ’40s and ’50s fashions to sate the clothes hunger inspired by the show Mad Men. Seasonal fabrics and styles are hung in appealing color-coordinated clusters. Visiting the constantly changing collection is like reaching into a party grab bag — you never know what goodies await: embroidered ethnic blouses, hand-tooled leather purses, festive flower print sundresses, slinky black satin gowns, faux animal skin loafers, cowboy boots and vintage T’s reminiscent of last-century icons. Teens, who want a new twist on prom, can select a vintage velvet number and not worry about the nightmare of same-dress-syndrome. — Anna Mindess
Pretty Penny, 5488 College Avenue, (510) 594-9219, www.prettypennyclothing.com
Salon Using the Best Anti-Aging Secret Weapons
Argania Salon de Beauté
France may have the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and awesome food, but we have Miriam Bendimerad, owner of a Mediterranean-style haven. Trained as an esthetician in France, she combines European techniques and her native Moroccan traditions for every face. Well-kept secrets like Ghassoul clay masks to calm and balance and Cirepil wax, a gentler low-temperature, hard wax, are the status quo. Book an Argania Experience Facial ($75) and learn of the miraculous powers of Argan oil. Rich in vitamin E, essential fatty acids, powerful anti-oxidants and Omega 3, this magical ingredient moisturizes, smoothes and softens, while “curtailing the effects of time.” France will be so jealous! — Karen T. Hartline
Argania Salon de Beauté, 1801 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Berkeley, (510) 883-1832, www.arganiasalon.com
Best Singer and Songwriter
They love him in Europe. Yet East Bay native Bart Davenport can definitely use more appreciation in his old stomping grounds, not the least because the Piedmont Avenue MVP has done it all: conjuring up blues shouters of the past as the frontman for the Loved Ones, plying a melody-starved S.F. with his Kinetics and riding the waves of pop promise as a bass player-for-hire with Persephone’s Bees. But it’s been his solo work as a shameless lover of soft rock and a well-crafted tune that has won him the respect of critics and an avid following in Spain, while his soulful vocal work with electro-funk combo Honeycut has had hipsters getting down since the outfit’s inception in 2003. Call it a case of the unappreciated tender heart, the taken-for-granted multi-talent. So lend an ear when you see him next — after the singer-songwriter on Oakland’s Antenna Farm Records regales fans on the continent this spring with his German solo release, Searching for Bart Davenport, and performs alongside Honeycut on the occasion of the group’s France-only long-player, Comedians. — Kimberly Chun
Best Nature Trail
Self-Guided Nature Path at Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve
There are times for walking peacefully through the woods, for appreciating every leaf and plant and tree, for naming every creature. The 1.7-mile loop trail within 241-acre Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve is geared decidedly for that: Dogs, horses and bikes are all unwelcome in the service of quiet contemplation of one of the East Bay’s most unique ecological resources. Even jogging is discouraged. To get the full experience, and to learn more about the incredibly diverse — and rare — plant community housed in Huckleberry, grab a
self-guided nature path brochure at the trailhead. It’ll help you distinguish the coast silktassel from the dwarf chinquapin, and explain the important role manzanita play in an evolving ecosystem. During mid- to late-summer, the preserve’s namesake huckleberry bushes burst with fruit. — Nate Seltenrich
Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve, Skyline Road between Broadway Terrace and Snake Road, www.ebparks.org/parks/huckleberry
Best New Dog Park Experience
Grove-Shafter Dog Park
Not all dog parks are created equal — even those built under freeways. Hardy Dog Park may be surrounded by beautiful Rockridge homes, but it’s a flat, featureless patch of dirt in the perpetual shade of Highway 24 that gets the job done with minimal aplomb. Two miles away is a much better option. The new Grove-Shafter Dog Park is Oakland’s second largest at 5.5 acres and is rapidly becoming one of its most well-used. Unlike most dog parks, this one offers sloping terrain covered in grass, dirt and woodchips; an interesting irregular shape; and a large rock in the middle for climbing. There’s also a run specifically for small dogs. Like Hardy, it’s under a freeway — a few, in fact — but the ceiling is high enough to accommodate a steady infusion of sunlight and fresh air, valuable resources at a busy dog park. — Nate Seltenrich
Grove-Shafter Dog Park, Martin Luther King Jr. Way at 36th Street
Best Museum to Have to Yourself on a Weekday
Lawrence Hall of Science
If you’ve ever been to a children’s museum during the week, we feel your pain. Because, oy vey, some will have you running screaming in the other direction after just five minutes — especially on a rainy day. For those in search of serenity, now, we offer the Lawrence Hall of Science, especially between the hours of 3 and 5 p.m. The Lawrence is a combination of high- and low-tech, cool and dated, the year 2011 and the year, oh, 1971. There are riveting featured exhibits and even an earthquake simulator that won’t scare a tot. You can head for the KidsLab, where things like the Gravity Wall pulls in the toddlers, but we prefer the unpopulated basement where the abandoned mastodon skeleton resides, as well as a stripped-bare phone booth and a Math Rules! exhibit with graphics straight out of 1988’s debut of Yo! MTV Raps. — Candace Murphy
Lawrence Hall of Science, 1 Centennial Drive, Berkeley, (510) 642-5132, www.lawrencehallofscience.org
Best Service Station
Ken Betts Montclair Chevron
When filling your car’s gas tank these days — watching the price roll up and up (and up) — it sure eases the pain if you’re in a friendly atmosphere being served by a friendly crew. That’s how it is at Ken Betts Montclair Chevron, where some employees have worked for decades and customers are greeted by name. Located in the heart of Montclair Village for more than 30 years, the station provides standard auto repair and maintenance, smog tests and snacks — along with super-friendly service. Gone are the days when gas cost 27 cents a gallon, and the attendant not only pumped the gas for you but also washed the windshield, checked the oil and checked the tires. (Remember those days? Anyone?) The people at Ken Betts Montclair Chevron maintain that philosophy of service. If they see someone struggling, they’ll go out and lend a hand. It’s just good old-fashioned graciousness. — Kathy Hrastar
Ken Betts Montclair Chevron, 6550 Moraga Ave., (510) 339-1064, www.kenbettscompany.com
Best Spot to Trumpet Your Child’s Birthday or Other Triumph to the Heavens
The Painted Rock, Montclair
Ask veteran Montclair residents about the history of the Painted Rock at Chelton and Ascot drives, and you’ll likely get an answer similar to what we got from one old timer: “Man, all I know is that it’s always been painted.” Since at least the 1960s, the Painted Rock has been a colorful repository for birthday, bar mitzvah, graduation and anniversary messages. Located in the former Sulfur Springs Park, the park was renamed in 2003 as Marjorie Saunders Park in honor of Saunders, a longtime hills resident and activist who helped rescue and reclaim the land in the ’80s. She also served as the Painted Rock’s main caretaker, a duty that’s since been taken over by her neighbor, 25-year Montclair resident Elaine Geffen (Saunders died last year, at age 100). The lore surrounding the rock’s first painters runs deep. Some believe Skyline High School students were the first to paint the rock, while others think Marjorie’s husband, Pete, might have been the tradition initiator. The practice of having one’s name painted, or painting another’s name, on the rock has become a rite of passage. Geffen says the unwritten (and unpainted) rules are these: Never paint over wet paint. Let an already painted message stay up at least one day. Don’t expect your message to stay up for a date in the future. And above all, don’t paint any political advertising. “I’ve personally painted it six times in the 25 years I’ve lived here,” says Geffen. — Candace Murphy
Best Bookstore for Bookworms
Walden Pond Books
“We’re really picky and jaded here,” claims manager Bob Fisher to a customer, and patrons of this 35-year-old, rustic spot would not have it any other way. Each staffer is an expert in a particular section, so there is always someone to talk shop with shoppers. Serious bookworms will go gaga over the amazing collection of rare books, compiled with a discerning eye and heartfelt affection. Bring the kids along, as the children’s section invites budding literary bugs to cozy up in a toddler-sized reading nook. Can’t find what you’re looking for? Walden Pond Books can likely get any read cheaper — and faster — than Amazon. But it's more fun to walk in without a plan, because staffers picks don’t always make the bestseller list. “We don’t just stock books with great marketing. We’re interested in books with great writing.” — Karen T. Hartline
Walden Pond Books, 3316 Grand Ave., (510) 832-4438, www.waldenpondbooks.com
MOST AWE-INSPIRING BEER SELECTION (DRAFT)
460 Eighth St.
MOST UNBELIEVABLE BEER SELECTION (BOTTLES)
464 Third St.
WHERE TO DRINK BEER WITH THE GUYS
460 Eighth St.
TIE: WHERE TO SIP WINE WITH THE GALS
4915 Telegraph Ave.
41 Tunnel Road, Berkeley
1900 Telegraph Ave.
HAPPENINGEST HAPPY HOUR
4395 Piedmont Ave.,
WHERE TO LINGER WITH YOUR LATTE
4316 Telegraph Ave.
MOST DANGEROUS MARGARITAS
5004 Telegraph Ave.
BEST WINE SHOP
The Wine Mine
5427 Telegraph Ave.
BEST LOCAL WINE/SPIRITS PRODUCER
St. George Spirits
makers of Hangar One Vodka (and other distilled products)
2601 Monarch St., Alameda, (510) 769-1601 (St. George main line), (510) 864-0635 (St. George Tasting Room),
BEST PLACE TO GET A SET OF WHEELS (CAR DEALER)
Honda of Oakland
BEST SHOPPING DISTRICT
BEST SUPPLIER OF BAGS, BAUBLES AND BANGLES
4176 Piedmont Ave.
Best Service Station
Ken Betts Chevron Montclair
6550 Moraga Ave.
BEST BIKE SHOP
Wheels of Justice Cyclery
2042 Mountain Blvd.
5433 College Ave.
BEST PLACE FOR BESPECTACLED PEEPERS
5833 College Ave.
THE REAL DEAL BUTCHER SHOP
6321 College Ave.
BEST GARDEN CENTER
East Bay Nursery
2332 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley
BEST GIFT SHOP
4176 Piedmont Ave.
BEST GROCERY STORE
Farmer Joe’s Market Place
3426 Fruitvale Ave.
MOST HELPFUL HARDWARE STORE
Grand Lake Ace Hardware
1221 Grand Ave., Piedmont
BEST HOME FURNISHINGS
5418 College Ave.
WHERE TO BUY AN ENGAGEMENT RING
Pavé Fine Jewelry Design
5496 College Ave.,
and 1778 Fourth St., Berkeley
BEST NAIL SHOP (MANICURE/PEDICURE)
The Nail Shop
3326 Grand Ave.
SPA WITH THE HIGHEST “AH!” FACTOR
The Claremont Hotel
Club & Spa
41 Tunnel Road, Berkeley
(800) 551-7266, ext. 2
BEST WOMEN’S BOUTIQUE
4176 Piedmont Ave.
WHERE TO TREAT YOUR FEET
The Foot Spa
and Tea Bar
582 Grand Ave.
WHERE TO CHILL
WHERE TO PARTY DOWN
2442a Webster St.,
FRIENDLIEST FARMERS MARKET
Grand Lake Farmers Market
6239 College Ave., Suite 201
Most Memorable Facial
Skin and Tonic
474 Santa Clara Ave.
BEST PLACE FOR A CARDIO WORKOUT
Downtown Oakland YMCA
WHERE TO GO TO LOOK LIKE A BEAUTY QUEEN
Seven 7 Salon
5358 College Ave.
BEST LIVE MUSIC VENUE
BEST NEON SIGN
Grand Lake Theater
BEST PUBLIC RESTROOM
BEST AFTER-SCHOOL PROGRAM
Lawrence Hall of Science
1 Centennial Drive, Berkeley
BEST GOODS FOR DECKING OUT BABY
5511 College Ave.
BEST CHILDREN’S BIRTHDAY CAKES
A Taste of Denmark
3401 Telegraph Ave.
BEST CHILDREN’S CLOTHING STORE
5095 Telegraph Ave., Suite C
TIE: MOST KID-FRIENDLY RESTAURANT
5642 College Ave.,
(510) 658-6180, and
1881 Solano Ave, Berkeley,
4226 Piedmont Ave.
WHERE TO MAKE BIRTHDAY DREAMS COME TRUE
Lawrence Hall of Science
1 Centennial Drive, Berkeley
BEST PUBLIC SCHOOL
Crocker Highlands Elementary School
BEST PRIVATE SCHOOL
4315 Lincoln Ave.
BEST SUMMER CAMP
Lawrence Hall of Science
1 Centennial Drive, Berkeley
BEST PLACE FOR KIDS HAIRCUTS
5335 College Ave., Ste. 4
BEST PET SHOP
5523 College Ave. • (510) 428-2785
Montclair Veterinary Hospital
1961 Mountain Blvd.
BEST PET SITTER
1695 34th St.
(510) 547-DOGS (3647)
BEST DOG WALKER
15935 Gramercy Drive, San Leandro
Oakland Community Acupuncture
15 Croxton Ave.
BEST MASSAGE THERAPIST
585 Mandana Blvd., Ste. 3
MOST LEGENDARY LEGAL EAGLE
Harvey M. Kletz
5315 College Ave.
MOST IMPRESSIVE REAL ESTATE WHEELER DEALER
342 Highland Ave.,